Triumph and Recovery

After riding the train up the picturesque Tweed Valley from Murwillumbah, Melba and the concert party arrived at Lismore to a resounding welcome on July 28.

Bookings had been so great that Melba agreed to do a second concert on her return from her concerts at Casino and Grafton. This was scheduled for August 4 but was cancelled due to the whole concert party succumbing to colds and bronchitis – the dread of every singer. The doctor was kept busy attending to everyone.

The party were staying at Mrs Ryan’s Hotel which had only opened four years earlier. It was a grand hotel but sadly was demolished for an office block.

The concert was staged at the Federal Hall later the Federalette and Vanity and now The Comfort Inn Hotel in Molesworth Street. The station where Melba was greeted by the leading dignitaries of the time is closed and faces an uncertain future.

The site of the former Federal Hall, Federalette and Vanity Thea
The site of the former Federal Hall, Federalette and Vanity Theatre in Molesworth Street, Lismore. Today in, 2016 it is the site of the Comfort Inn – 203 Molesworth St, Lismore.

Today, Lismore is a busy, bustling major service centre. The Richmond River Historical Society and its museum is housed in the former Lismore Council offices and is a hive of activity. Thanks to Bridget and other researchers, I spent several hours finding images and information about Melba’s stay.

Glen Innes – just like home to Melba

After leaving Armidale Melba’s train travelled seemingly through the valleys at the top of the world to Glen Innes which must have been a little like a home coming to Melba. She would have felt comfortable among so many people from her father’s homeland Scotland. The town is called the Land of the Beardies and having Celtic origins proudly includes a strip of tartan as part of its logo.

Glen Innes Railway Station is small compared to those of Tamworth and Armidale. Dominating the station was the massive water tower still standing there today on the abandoned station and line. The bridges later built at Grafton and Tweed Heads saw the inland line from Sydney to Brisbane fall out of favour and close.

But in 1909, Melba’s June 23 overnight stop at Glen Innes was her last concert until Brisbane when her next concert was scheduled on June 26.

The water trank for steam trains at the now closed Geln Innes Ra
The water tower at the Glen Innes Railway Station.

As with Armidale, Melba left the train and rested, probably at the Tattersalls Hotel – the leading hotel in town – before driving a short distance to the Town Hall for her concert. After supper at the hotel she would have been driven back to the station to spend the night on the train.

While in Glen Innes we tried to get into the Town Hall which is very little changed since Melba’s visit. However, it was a polling booth for the recent Federal elections and the Electoral Commission had changed the locks and held the keys to keep the ballot papers inside safe.

Still we had a wonderful time with Eve Chappell OAM, Museum Manager and Research Coordinator,

Glen Innes & District Historical Society. The society has taken over the old nurses’ home and other building at the Glen Innes Hospital site and created a magnificent local history museum called the Land of the Beardies Museum and Research Centre.

I spent several hours with Eve who, after receiving my email had spent several hours finding information and images suitable for my Glen Innes story. It was eve who suggested Melba stayed at the Tattersalls Hotel because it was the largest and used by the more well-heeled people when they stayed in town.

The society has a wonderful research centre which made me quite envious. They need lots of volunteers to operate it and offer good service and seem to have no shortage of help.

Eve was able to solve one mystery for me. The local coursing club was holding a two-day event and the day when Melba arrived they promoted it as Melba Day in local advertisements. Eve believed this was not because Melba would attend but because it was being held on the day Melba arrived in Glen Innes. The club knew it would attract more people if it was held when so many people were in town for the Melba concert. Smart marketing.

One mystery which will have to be solved is the missing copy of the Glen Innes Examiner – Friday, June 25, 1909 which would have contained the report on the concert. It is not on Trove nor in the microform held at the museum.

As reports from it have been quoted in publications, I hope the State Library of New South Wales holds a bound original Examiner for that time with the missing edition and will be able to copy it for me. Otherwise, sadly Glen Innes will be the only town in New South Wales not to have a concert report. More homework to do.

The Australian Standing Stones at Geln Innes NSW 2016.
The Australian Standing Stones at Glen Innes NSW 2016.

One night stands in the New England

Leaving the Peel Valley the Melba concert party made the slow but steep trip up the “back” of the great Dividing Range on to the New England plateau. Everywhere the scenery is spectacular with deep green valleys and rocky outcrops strewn along the hill tops.

The next stop is Armidale when again a large crowd is gathered at the station to greet Melba and her party. After the official welcome Melba was driven along the wide streets to the grandiose Imperial Hotel where she and her party rested before preparing for the concert. In the Armidale Town Hall in the next street.

Imerpial Hotel corner of Dangar Street and The Mall, Armidale.
The Imperial Hotel was where all the landed gentry stayed when visiting Armidale. University of New England & Regional Archives, HRCP0975 Imperial Hotel 1895

The station is not as grand as its cousins in the larger towns but today, it is proudly maintained and it is easy to imagine Melba walking through the parlour room out to greet the thronging crowd of people. There is a railway museum worth visiting though opening hours are limited.

As the train would be leaving early in the morning, Melba did as in Tamworth and slept in the vice-regal carriage ready for the early start across the ridge tops to Glen Innes.

Thanks to archivist Dr Philip Ward and his staff at the University of New England Archives, I was able to view the plans for the luxurious Imperial Hotel. It was easy to see why Melba and her party wanted to rest there. Upstairs there was a couple of parlours with rooms attached and as they overlooked the bustling main commercial area below, would have been of great interest to Melba.

The archive generously shared their image collection with me and answered all of my questions as I sought information about this town which today is very much a University Town.

The town hall where Melba performed is rather unique in that it was built in two sections at differnt times in the 1880s. Today, it looks like a building wanting to find a proud new owner or occupier, a far cry from Melba’s triumphant night in 1909.

Melba and Slim honoured at Tamworth

When Melba arrived at Tamworth in 1909, it was a quiet country town divided by the Peel River. The train had spent most of the day winding through the Hunter Valley from Maitland.

Today Tamworth is the country music capital of Australia and along the main street – Peel Street – stand statues of country stars such as Slim Dusty.

The council and historical society have put a lot of effort into heritage signage and the one featuring the Caledonian Hotel mentions Melba stayed there. The plaque is a few metres from Slim’s statue and somehow it seems appropriate recognition of music legends of two different eras.

Plaque of the Caledonian Hotel, Tamworth.
Plaque in Peel Street showing where the Caledonian Hotel, Tamworth was originally located.

However, research has shown that while the plaque says Melba stayed there on June 21, 1909, she and her party actually stayed at the Caledonian on June 19 and 20. The concert was on June 21 but after the concert and supper Melba spent the night on the vice regal railway carriage as the train to Armidale was leaving early in the morning.

Thanks to the wonderful staff at the Tamworth branch of the Central Northern Regional Library, I spent several hours going through the microfilm of their local paper and their local history books.

Shirley from the Tamworth & District Family History Group and the Tamworth Historical Society have also helped with the Melba story at Tamworth.

It is amazing to see how much research has been carried out by local heritage groups and published so people such as me can gain and understanding of life in the town at any time in its history.

Chocolate on the Cheek

At the suggestion of people in Wagga we called into the Junee & District Historical Society based in the Broadway Hotel to see if they had anything more on Wantabadgery and Melba.

After chatting with the volunteers, a file on Wantabadgery was produced and found a wonderful Melba Moment.

While waiting for the train to Albury with Ethel Macdonald, Melba met two young pre-schoolers, one of whom had been eating chocolate. As always Melba chatted to the children and gave each a kiss. No-one told Melba she had chocolate on her cheek.

Junee Railway Station courtyard 2016.
The courtyard area at the Junee Railway Station which is on the right. the two-storey Railways Refreshment Room is in the centre which is where Melba and George waited for the Albury train.

Another Junee member Shirley Hart kindly found a lot of information about Wantabadgery Station, the Macdonald family and Captain Moonlight and his gang for me.

At Cootamundra I met the wonderful Betti Punnett of the Cootamundra Local History Society Inc. who took me through their museum at the historic railway station and then on to the shire library to go through their archive for any images I wanted.

She told me Cootamaundra loves parades which might explain why Melba walked almost the length of the town to her hotel. Was she re-enacting the parade given to our Governor-General Lord Northcote just three years earlier? Whatever it somehow did seem most appropriate.

From Cootamundra is was back on the train back through Junee and out west to Forbes via Parkes for her next concert.

Of all the railway stations, Forbes was just a small simple country station surrounded by nothing but wide open plains. After the formal welcome, the local photographer was quickly on the job and captured a wonderful photo of Melba a car just before taken for a drive and then to her hotel.

A second photo outside the hotel appears to have been taken the same day with Melba on the hotel balcony.

The wonderful volunteers at the Forbes Family History Group – Peter, Ros, Jill and Bernie opened their vast collections to me and left me quietly in the corner finding all the local newspaper reports about the day Melba arrived in town. They also happily found any information I wanted.

The Forbes Museum gave a great overview of the town’s past but did have an image credited as Melba which it wasn’t so I hope my note has led them to change their captioning on their online and mounted images.

Our next stop is Orange back in the Great Divide where snow was forecast.